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So, I've received what was in many respects a perfectly normal spam message of the form;

Due to your recent publication [title of my paper] you are invited to contribute a chapter to a book on [topic of book] called [book title]. This will be published by [name of predatory publisher].

This book is being edited by Dr. Joe Smith.

Normally emails like that are immediately put in spam, but I happened to know that Dr. Joe Smith (not their real name) is actually an honorary professor. They are honorary professor at a university with generally high academic standards, so my first thought was that the predatory published was using their name without their consent. If I was being used in that way, I'd want to put a stop to it, so I forwarded the invitation to them, and asked if they were really editing a book on this topic. My email was not accusatory, I mentioned it looked a bit like spam and asked if they were editing this book. Unfortunately they actually are involved with this.

There is nothing above board about this request;

  • The publisher is on Beall's list.
  • The publisher charges authors disproportionate fees.
  • The topic of the proposed book is a completely different field to my field. This would be clear to anyone who read the paper mentioned in the email. So I can only assume that Professor Joe Smith does not actually know anything about me, the invitation to collaborate was as random as any other spam request.

Having real professors send out spam requests is not good. It's bad for the reputation of their university, and to a lesser extent, the subject as a whole. For good reasons, publications of low quality and dubious academic merit cause damage.

What actions could be taken that would firstly encourage the professor to stop, and secondly protect the reputation of the university?

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    What is an "honorary" professor?
    – Buffy
    May 19 at 12:40
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    please define "disproportionate fees." Nature asks something on the order of 7'000 USD, and you are still having low editorial work and poor added valuer from them, see for example: nature.com/articles/444123b
    – EarlGrey
    May 19 at 12:47
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    @Buffy: Honorarprofessor exist in Germany. They have a full-time job outside a university. They receive some payment (Honorar) to give some lectures (2h, 4h, not much more), usually related to their application of the field. To be allowed to grade their students, they are nominated a professor title, which they use to impress outside of academia. These guys might like to get a book as a editor, but they don't have a academic network or big name.
    – usr1234567
    May 19 at 20:40
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    Is that the same as what we call "adjunct professor" in the US?
    – shoover
    May 19 at 20:48
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    @Dr.Snoopy The question specifies that the professor has confirmed they are involved.
    – JBentley
    May 20 at 12:45

3 Answers 3

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Predatory publishers are predatory by nature, that is why they are called this way. They will send out invitations to become an editor for a book and occasionally, people with high personal values will fall prey to them. It speaks for you that you want to help Professor Joe Smith to escape this trap. The problem is that he might not want to be helped and that in the process, you might make statements that can be considered libelous by the publisher. There is a reason that Beale's list is no longer maintained by Beale, and I assume it is the result of litigation or pressure of litigation.

There is no really good way to tell someone that they have been a mark. If you tell me that I acted stupidly, I will not at first feel thankfulness for you. Indeed, if I were Professor Joe Smith, I might be angry because you, apparently not of great standing in the field, are questioning my judgment. I might get defensive and lash out at you. In retrospect, I would feel bad about it, but by then I might have done some damage. It is also possible that Joe Smith knows what he is doing, but maybe he thinks that his reputation is worth the bad publisher. After all, he could argue, the authors are paying to publish with him as an editor. Possibly, you were wrong about the publisher and the offer is reasonable. Neither you nor I know what Professor Smith knows and intends, of course, but I would refrain from telling someone that they are a dummy directly or indirectly.

Since you already communicated with him, you should reject his offer directly. That the project does not fall in your field gives you a perfect excuse, but you were enticed by working with him.

If you want to bring up the question of Beale's list and the nature of the publishing house, do so very carefully, such as saying that you are also reluctant because someone else has warned you because of bad experience with the publisher, (as long as you stay in the confines of the truth) and that as someone with little reputation as opposed to Professor Smith's reputation you need to be very careful. Make these additional reasons for decline about you and not about Professor Smith and about the publisher.

If you make strong statements about the publisher, be ready to prove it, because it easily constitutes libel. The laws of your country and of the country were the publisher is located might apply. At the very least be sure of your facts.

In summary: Decline politely. There is a sufficient reason that would apply even if the publisher would be Springer or ACM. If you think that Professor Smith has made a mistake, and you think that it befalls to you to correct him, (two different and strong assumptions), express yourself indirectly and carefully. Use "I" statements such as "I am afraid of the publisher being black-listed or (Beale-listed) and what this would do to me if I publish there" or just "I am afraid of the publisher."

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    "Since you already communicated with him, you should reject his offer directly" Never react to spam. It doesn't matter who's name they put into the spam. The email is not from this person. The offer was send by journal staff and it is very unlikely that this person has done anything other than allow them to use their name. I would ghost everyone involved.
    – Roland
    May 20 at 6:42
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    I thought he had already written to Professor Joe Smith.
    – tschwarz
    May 20 at 10:09
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    There is no offer from Professor Joe Smith that could be declined. There is an "offer" from the publisher.
    – Roland
    May 20 at 10:12
  • In the UK, and probably in most jurisdictions, it is a defence to a defamation claim that you were stating a fact. Stating "journal X is on Beall's list" is a fact. I don't think there's a need to tiptoe around the issue, so long as you stay within the realm of provable facts. So you wouldn't want to say "Journal X is predatory", but it's also not necessary to go to the extremes this answer suggests (inventing a fake friend who had a fake bad experience). If anything, that is more likely to be defamatory since it is untrue.
    – JBentley
    May 20 at 12:50
  • @Roland That isn't clear. The title of the question refers to "a professor from reputable institute asks me to publish", and the body of the question states that OP contacted the professor and had a response. The implication is that either the journal sent the invitation on the professor's request or with their consent, or the professor repeated the offer in their response.
    – JBentley
    May 20 at 12:54
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I feel like your reasoning for concluding the publisher is disrespectable is weak:

The publisher is on Beall's list.

Beall's word is not gospel, and what Beall calls predatory might not be predatory. This is especially the case since Beall's list is discontinued and no longer updated.

The publisher charges authors disproportionate fees.

This one annoys me in general because I doubt most authors have any idea how much journal publishing actually costs. I've written a lot more about this in other answers; for this question I will only point out that many of the most expensive publishers are commonly regarded as reputable (e.g. Physical Review Letters charges a publication fee even for non-OA articles, of all things). Also, the invitation is for a book, which presumably is not going to be published OA and so publication fees do not apply.

The topic of the proposed book is a completely different field to my field. This would be clear to anyone who read the paper mentioned in the email. So I can only assume that Professor Joe Smith does not actually know anything about me, the invitation to collaborate was as random as any other spam request.

I don't know how large the discrepancy is, e.g. did they invite you, as a biologist, to contribute to a mathematics book? Or did they invite you, as a number theorist, to contribute to a book on topology? Especially if it's the latter, then I would guess that the marketing executive is simply emailing everyone in the subject database. If you've worked with this kind of data where you have lots of people but don't know which field each are in, then separating the number theorists from the topologists becomes very time-consuming, especially when research fields change over time. It's difficult to justify when the book is not likely to make much profit.

If you're still convinced the publisher is predatory, then the best thing to do is to convince the professor not to work with them. The publisher continuing to send emails against the explicit wishes of the editor is a much bigger red flag. You could ask them about what level of control they have (or expect to have) over the submissions. If they are unaware the publisher is predatory, then it'll be a fruitful conversation; if they are aware but choosing to work with them anyway, you'll learn their reasons.

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    Even if I'd never looked it up, I'd assume it was predatory. Reputable publishers aren't going to email me with requests for contributions, I'm too junior. the only reason I looked further was my surprise at Joe Smith, and everything else I've seen contributes to my belief this publisher is no good.
    – Clumsy cat
    May 19 at 12:49
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    I like almost all of this answer, but I would be careful about trying to convince the professor not to work with them. As tschwarz pointed out in another answer, while that might be an appropriate thing to do, it should be done very carefully both out of respect for the professor and because of potential legal concerns if not approached in the right way. May 19 at 20:08
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    The content of this email makes it obvious predatory spam. I'm getting emails with almost identical wording all the time. They are very obviously computer-generated from data harvested by crawling databases of reputable publishers.
    – Roland
    May 20 at 6:49
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    "Especially if it's the latter, then I would guess that the marketing executive is simply emailing everyone in the subject database." Note that by doing this they are skirting the bounds of legality (if not outright breaking them) in various jurisdictions. Note also that essentially this marketing executive is trading their time for that of the recipients of the unsolicited e-mail, which is rather rude.
    – TimRias
    May 20 at 8:28
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Honorary professors are usually part of a proper professor's chair. Reach out to this professor that his honorary professor is damaging the professor's chair's reputation with this predatory journal. Just point it out, don't ask the professor what he should do. For sure, he will know how to handle this.

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    You're suggesting to report the Honorary Professor to their own superior and accuse them of associating with a predatory journal? That's a particularly aggressive move against the honorary professor, in response to receiving a random automated email from a publisher. This also seems like a pretty efficient way to make an enemy.
    – Stef
    May 21 at 11:21

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